The OAE Night Shift – Classical Music: minus the rules

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kati Debretzeni, director & violin
Frances Kelly, harp, Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 12 May 2015

Despite being no spring chicken myself, the audience at most classical music concerts make me feel rather young –  perhaps naively. Not so the OAE’s innovative Night Shift events, specifically aimed at young people and therefore making me feel rather old. Although these events have taken place in pubs and bars, I usually experience them, like this one, as late-night one-hour events repeating part of the earlier evening OAE concert. On this occasion, the OAE included three of the  pieces played in the earlier concert reviewed below (Telemann’s Violin Concerto in Bb and Handel’s Concerto for harp & lute and he Concerto Grosso, Op 6/1), unfortunately omitting Stevie Wishart’s new work which had just been given its world premiere. I would have loved to have heard what the young audience thought of that work.

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The Queen Elizabeth Hall stage lighting was given a sexy twist with shades of purple, and the stage and auditorium lighting was subdued. With surrounding razzmatazz that includes an active Facebook page, pre- and post-concert foyer musicians (of a folk/rock/alternative genre), a student bar, lots of colourful giveaways (including seaside rock), cheap tickets, and active encouragement from a presenter/compère to take (non-flash) photographs, bring drinks in, applaud between movements, to like/follow/tag on social media during the concert and to whoop, whistle and yell as well as clap.

I usually try to take a young person with me, not only to make me feel even older, but also to get their perspective. In the past I have found the usual compère (a daytime television WP_20150512_22_18_17_Pro 1presenter) rather patronising, both to the audience and players, although my companion on this occasion didn’t seem to mind him. But, as I have found in the past, the audience react far better to Kati Debretzeni’s unadulterated technical explanations of the music than to Mr TV’s rather wild descriptions, for example, of a Concerto Grosso as being a “massive scrap” and “doing battle”. And Kati has the ability to hold an audience spellbound with the sheer joy of her violin playing. Outside of the hype, all the musicians take the music itself seriously, and it is always noticeable that few, if any, people actually take up the encouragement to wander out during the music to top up their drinks, despite Mr TV’s encouragement so to do. However, in the spirit of the occasion, I managed to resist the temptation to give one of my stares to the young group sitting just behind me who chatted away during most of the playing.

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